Monday, 1 February 2010

The Right to Live

Three things strike me about the current debate about assisted suicide, or 'the right to die' as supporters put it. The first is the way that celebrities, such as Sir Terry Pratchett, pronounce on the issue in such a way as to give apparent weight to the argument. Thank goodness that it is not up to them but to parliament to decide on changes to the law and so far parliament has voted twice against making assisted suicide legal.

The second thing that strikes me, as the Archbishop of York pointed out today on BBC's 'The World at One' is that for the majority of people in the two-thirds world, the question is not about the right to die but the right to live and the struggle to keep alive. It seems to me that the debate about the right to die is essentially a wealthy middle-class preoccupation - one that is only an option to those who can afford to choose it. In the face of the poverty of some Central American countries such as Guatemala where it is not unknown for the police to get rid of the problem of street children by killing them, it seems rather obscene to be talking about the 'right to die'.

My third reflection is about the so-called 'quality of life'. Although it is incredibly hard to see someone close to you suffering, or to suffer yourself, that doesn't deny that in suffering there can be a good quality of life. What makes us human is not just what we can do for ourselves, but the fact that others can do things for us. Most of the time we prefer to be active, but sometimes we have to be passive and to receive from others, and receive what life deals out to us. William Vanstone, in his book 'The Stature of Waiting' draws on the example of Jesus as one who was handed over to others to become the passive victim of their hate, and in that experience was able to give dignity to passive suffering.

I'm sure this is going to be a debate that gathers momentum. I suspect that the majority that support assisted suicide do so because they haven't really thought through the issues of where lines are drawn and what the dignity of life is all about. My fear is that if legalised killing is allowed it opens a slippery path to the possibility of getting rid of those who are a burden to their families or to the state. It's not very far from there to the 'final solution' in which the state rids itself of those who are a drain on resources or are seen as being unnecesary or unwanted.

No comments: